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Social Media as Paratextual Narrative: Visualizing Twitter Surges in Response to Popular Television Shows

Speaker: Alex Leavitt, Convergence Culture Consortium (Comparative Media Studies, MIT) & Web Ecology Project. Moderator: Madeleine Clare Elish. Abstract: In his new book, "Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts" (2010), Jonathan Gray argues for the recognition of peripheral entities of media franchises as valuable, writing, "[W]hereas hype is often regarded solely as advertising and as PR, synergistic merchandise, products, and games -- also called peripherals -- are often intended as other platforms for profit-generation. ... Promotion suggests not only the commercial act of selling, but also of advancing and developing a text" (5). Gray supports paratexts, the adjacent media elements that "create," "manage," and "fill... with meanings" (6) the primary text, as influential elements for audiences to understand stories. Recent audience research around television consumption has recognized that messages on social networks, such as, have created enormous amounts of hype around major episodes of American broadcast television shows that resembles the textual phenomena that Gray investigates. However, the large amount of tweets that appear in Twitter's Trending Topics aggregation system presents a sizable barrier to Humanities scholars, who in examining these paratextual "events" must navigate, via Twitter's API, millions of notes that constitute a persuasive force in understanding television narratives. Alex Leavitt, Lead Researcher on the Web Ecology Project ( and Research Specialist in the Convergence Culture Consortium (Comparative Media Studies, MIT), will examine experiments in approaching paratexts and paratextual incidents occurring across large social networks and the implications that these paratexts have on scholars' research through visualization as well as on concepts of authorship and narrative development.

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July 16, 2010 10:48
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